April 10, 2022

Palm Sunday

"You have stood by me in my trials and I am giving you a Kingdom."  This solemn declaration was made by the Lord even as He faced betrayal, denial, and abandonment - suffering these unto death. To enter into His Kingdom, we must follow Him down this same pathway.  This means that we will face what He has faced. To enable us to follow Him, He must purify us and strengthen us to remain standing with Him even after our sin. To the degree that we are afraid of death, suffering, and sin, we are afraid also of His mercy. But His merciful love overcomes our fear.  Accepting His mercy, we learn to see in our own life experience that sin, suffering and death ultimately do not stand between us and the love of God. Indeed, He has made of them a pathway. 

"You have stood by me." We hear these words knowing full well how often we have failed Him. Yet, He does not focus on that. He sees what is good. He chooses to be conscious of what we have done in our devotion and so He directs us to also acknowledge what He sees.  It is not that He is not aware of our sins. It is only that He chooses not to allow them to define our relationship with Him.  Thus, He said this in the presence of the Twelve: the betrayer, the nine would abandon Him and the most trusted who would deny Him. He says it also to us now.  

"You have stood by me" unveils his decision to see past our failures to a deeper mystery about us that we cannot know on our own. He gazes with hope on the possibilities of the human heart. This is because we are not in his eyes friends who fall short of His expectations. Instead, we are each a gift of the Father to Him - and so He treasures our faithfulness no matter how weak or fleeting it might be.  Thus, He confirms all that is good, noble and true. The the gaze in which he holds us never breaks - He suffers this regard of the deepest truth of our existence unto death and will search hell to rescue it.  Here, the basis of hope no matter how often we have fallen, a truth He repeats today in our presence too: "You have stood by me."  

"I have prayed that your faith will not fail and once you have turned back, you must strengthen the faith of your brethren."  Love requires many difficult purifications and painful healings before we can stand before the face of the One who loved us to the end. No unaided human effort can endure these trials of love. Yet, we never face these alone, but always in the Church with Christ's gentle presence and His mighty prayer. His prayer that our faith should not fail does not mean we will not fall.  It means that if we fall, no matter how far or hard or for how long, we can turn back - convinced that the power of His love is greater than the power of our sin.

What we do not see but what Christ sees is the splendor of His Bride - a splendor in which we have already been implicated from before the foundation of the world. Despite the sinfulness of her members and even the failures of her shepherds, she knows from the vantage point of eternity the way to the Bridegroom in both life and death. She knows this path to love even as it leads through the difficult ambiguities of our lives. She knows it by love and She knows it for love even when we have long stumbled away from it. She knows even as it disappears from our sight at the last moments of this life. And so, if we listen to the voice of the Bride, she teaches us to find it even when we feel farthest from it. Indeed, the Good Shepherd Himself will pick us up and place us there - for He has abandoned everything to find us.  Though we cannot see it, the Body of Christ knows the passage that crosses from the gates of hell to the very threshold of heaven. Christ Himself bridges this abyss - and He suffers it in His mystical body so that we might become immaculate and holy in His presence. 

April 3, 2022

Repentance and Contemplative Prayer

The story of the woman accused of adultery reveals the plight of humanity in the Cosmos.  Christ turns a circus of shame into a confessional, a heartless courtroom into a garden of encounter. The Lord's finger cultivates the barren ground of hopelessness into the fertile soil of new beginnings.

Just as when she was brought before the Lord condemned, we too stand alone, scapegoat of an oversexed culture and the object of unchaste rage. As was the case with her, all sorts of spiritual powers demand justice and point out our shame. The accusations seem well grounded and we feel the ground under our feet slipping towards death. Then Someone bends to the earth and scribbles in the dust. What once seemed firm gives way to his touch and what once faltered beneath the weight of our sin now is suddenly firm. In the aftermath of this earthquake, those who would condemn us have left and we find ourselves alone with the Great Alone. He questions us. Will we dare approach Him and stammer our reply?

If we seek Him, the Lord will draw us by his beauty.  Where he draws us is more than merely a physical place. And He stands us up and addresses us. With the touch of His finger, our accusers have lost their ground.  He draws us out of shame and accusation and into a new beginning, out of the gutter and into safe-haven, out of the pigsty and into the arms of the One who has long awaited our coming home. He does not wish us to be distracted with lesser things, so He arranges everything to free us from what holds us back: terrible trials, catastrophe, failures, voids, unbearable hardships in life and in the heart. All of these become so many thresholds to freedom when we realize that we are not alone, that He leads us through them and that, come what come may, we can trust Him. He even transforms sin into a means of grace when we surrender it to Him in sorrow. He draws us to where the longing of our hearts at last discover fulfillment. 

In the imagery of the Song of Songs, this sacred place is a vineyard, an orchard, a garden, a hidden wine cellar.  These images of paradise speak of friendship, fruitfulness, family, and feasts. In the very shadows of these rich mysteries, the original goodness and nobility given to the human heart flash anew despite it all. On this holy ground, the heart's purpose is manifest in pledges of love stronger than death. There is freedom, repentance and new resolve. In this sacred place, joy and sorrow seize the soul until it explodes with life and meaning.  The way we had always hoped things might be, we suddenly discover are unimaginably more than so.  Hidden fullnesses rush in to fill that gnawing emptiness and we who were lost find ourselves standing just where we ought to be, together, before Him whose love surpasses our every hope. 

And in that deep silence, He gazes into the eyes. The ears take in His harmonies and in the deepest down core of one's being, something new is born.  This newness is a reality for which this tired-out world cannot account and it will last long after all that is passing passes away. For as beautiful as the world in its order and ornament is, what God has done in the human heart is so even more. A new creation begins when heart speaks to heart, when the Word of the Father shines in the darkness, when He is lifted up, when He draws us to Him.

March 27, 2022

Silence and the Order of Holiness

Those who would prayerfully ponder the silence of Mary discover that the sacred has a certain structure - it is structured out of and into silence in a manner that evokes awe and reverence. That is, Mary helps us see that the sacred unfolds as hierarchy. It has the form of a heavenly temple: a hierarchy of love and truth in which evermore tender silences enter and from which they flow.  Such silences are not empty - they bear glory, the splendor of truth, the radiance of goodness. One is ever more set apart from the merely mundane the closer one draws.  The more one descends this deepest center in humility, the more one ascends this dazzling height in hope.  The Word made flesh unveils the pathway of descent and ascent by the mystery of the Cross. In this revelation, the Church is made holy and immaculate. He began this great work when he chose to raise humanity to the right hand of the Father by going down into the silent depths of His mother's womb. By her profound "Let it be done", humanity's deepest silence conceived heaven's greatest Canticle.  Her Immaculate Heart resounds with this mystery and to enter this sanctuary is to be bathed in Mercy.  God has shown here a merciful holiness, one opening to ever more meaningful silences, fullnesses of life. Souls that would dare ponder such manifestation of God's power discover the greater the reverence and awe, the more mercy flows.  

March 20, 2022

The Annunciation and Consecration to Jesus through Mary

The solemnity of Annunciation, the great mystery of Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would be the Mother of "the Son of God" opens a new pathway for our anxious world today. To embark on this journey, the Church invites us to consecrate ourselves to Jesus through her -- and so we place ourselves as well as our communities and even our nations in her heart.  It is within the act of faith that she made that we too will receive Jesus until His reign extends through us as well.  

In the angelic greeting, a new sovereignty is revealed, an authority to govern. The legitimacy of this authority is not rooted in earthly powers but instead in the fulfillment of a divine promise that does not pass away. Unlike any kingdom of this world, this kingdom rests not on the temporary peace that comes through conquest of an enemy. Instead, the "yes" of a woman to God's promise has brought a new kind of peace. The conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary introduces into this passing world an new order and legitimacy in human affairs that will never pass:

Then the angel said to her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:30-33)

Mary's openness to the blessings of God chart a way forward for humanity toward an eternal sacred order before which the exigencies of each historical moment must yield.  Not by forced subjection or brutality, but by love, this is a trail of humility and fearlessness on which the Son of the Most High leads us.  Consecrating ourselves to Jesus through Mary expresses the commitment to follow this pathway.  To set one's existence under a power and authority not of this world is to open oneself to what is primordial, an order of things more powerful than the disorder of the present moment. This new kingdom is not in competition with what passes away but rescues everything that its noble and true about our lives from every threatening evil.  Rooted in a mystery that transcends time, all earthly kingdoms fall and rise before this throne and Mary who is the first to receive this into her heart is also the one who helps us sing with her, "He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly."

Unlike the kingdom announced by Gabriel, the kingdoms of this passing world come to an end. This is because we tend, as individuals and communities, away from humility before the truth of our situation. Yet great humility is called for since the common good often eludes our grasp.  We do not understand what really binds us together and we are weak in the face of our own avarice. Without humility before a reference point that transcends our own desires, the foundation on which we build our communities lack the solidity of truth and, over time, fail to bear the weight of human existence. 

At the brink of a world war, today's earthly kingdoms seek salvation by technological force. It is presumed that developments in economic and military capabilities through advances in technology can build and protect a better humanity. Indeed, tremendous wealth, honor and control have been realized through technological advancement. 

Yet there is a caveat. When nations or businesses rely on the power of technology to coerce or manipulate, it is at the expense of their own legitimacy and so they fall.  The legitimacy of any institution rests on the degree to which it protects human dignity and freedom. Such things that flow from our divine image and likeness do not pass even when we act against them. When we betray them, they testify against us because we betray ourselves. This is true of our own acts of freedom .... its also true of our institutions and businesses.  Whether our own tent cities or new refugee camps, we have lived to see that new ways to nudge, shame and coerce into compliance do not yield a cohesive society or world peace.  The opposite is true. The more limits imposed on human dignity, the more out of control the discord becomes. This is as true for nations as it is for neighborhoods, dinner tables and hearts.

The Annunciation opens humanity to the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom all about saving human dignity from dehumanizing powers.  Only under the rule of Christ can human freedom finally find room to unfold and disclose its full potential - not just for individuals but also in the societies we form together. This is because the throne of this kingdom to does rest on coercion or manipulation, but on love and love alone. Yet this love is hidden, disguised in poverty, rejection and humility. 

To consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary is to choose this pathway even when it may seem that the powerful and mighty of this world are in control. It is to live by faith that the reality of the God who saves us is ever greater and more present - more real to the human reality than what seems conventional, comfortable and convenient. Mary opened the heart of humanity to this truth. Thus, we entrust worldly powers to the Lord through her until our own hearts sing, "He who is mighty has done great things."


March 17, 2022

The Breastplate of St. Patrick 2022

St. Patrick offered a prayer called the Deer's Song or the Lorica with his brethren as they walked into an ambush. As the Irish began to renounce paganism and believe the Gospel, they abandoned the conventional myths of their culture. Yet, there were some who were afraid of what would happen without paganism to hold Ireland together. To preserve a social order that benefited them, they plotted violence.  Instead of being intimidated, St. Patrick turned to prayer.

Myth can be a vehicle for truth.  When it is, it is an appeal to our imagination that helps us search for things that do not change in this passing world.  Myth can also be a tool for manipulation, an appeal to the imagination to establish the legitimacy of something that is not really legitimate in itself. This was as true of the pre-Christian pagan myths then as it is true of the post-Christian secular myths today. What appeals to the imagination is never enough for the human spirit and places it at grave risk of self-contradiction.  If we are not careful, myths can dispose us to what is irrational - for it is easy to be carried away by myth into strife and violence. 

As Christ challenged the conventional myths of pagan society, social standing, privilege, wealth, cultural influence were all at stake.  Those who used the myths of the day for their own benefit became convinced that the peace preached by this missionary had to be suppressed at any cost. They hatched the plot against St. Patrick believing in the power of violence. But the peace of Christ is more powerful than the rage that lives in the hearts of men.

His enemies were prepared to kill him and his comrades. St. Patrick's response was to continue his mission undeterred. The prayer called the Lorica or the Breastplate was born in this holy determination. He taught this prayer to those who assisted him in the ministry. As they prayed together, their would be assailants could not see them - an unseen glory cloaked them.  Indeed, all the attackers could see was a few deer walking across a meadow. They were confounded. The prayer became known as the Deer's Song. 

If true, the story is not surprising. There are many accounts of missionaries being delivered in miraculous ways.  Those who cling to the status quo and fear losing their power will always attempt to stand in the way of Christ.  But a new power that evil cannot overcome is unleashed - the same Power that holds together Creation is poured out for the salvation of those who will cry out to Christ.

In a special way, I ask you to pray this Deer's Song in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Ukraine surrounded by the rage of war -- for their safety and protection during these days of great trial.  The peace of Christ is more powerful than human rage and our prayers can help His victory be realized in the hearts of those who are given to violence.

Now, I stand clad for battle in that Mighty Power

Of the Name of the Trinity:

Believing in the Three-ness,

Holding fast the One-ness

Creator of Heaven and Earth.

This day I stand ready with

The power of Christ’s Birth and Baptism;

The power of his Crucifixion and Burial;

The power of His Resurrection and Ascension;

The power of His coming to judge on Judgment Day.

I go forth today bound

By virtue of the Seraphim’s devotion,

By angels’ obedience,

By resurrection’s hope unto reward,

By Patriarchs’ prayers

By Prophets’ word of power,

By Apostles’ preaching

By Confessors’ faith,

By Holy Virgins’ purity,

By righteous men’s deeds.

I bind unto myself this day 

Heaven’s might,

Sun’s shine,

Moon’s gleam,

With fire’s glow,

Lightning's flash,

Wind's swiftness,

Sea's depths, 

Earth's firmness,

Solid rock.

Today, I rise up with 

God's Power guiding me,

God's Might upholding me,

God's Wisdom teaching me,

God's Eye watching over me,

God's Ear hearing me,

God's Word giving me speech,

God's Hand guiding me,

God's Way stretching before me,

God's Shield sheltering me,

God's terrible Army protecting me,

Against demon’s snares

Against vicious seductions

Against nature’s lusts

Against everyone who meditates injury to me,

Whether far or near,

Whether few or many.

I invoke all these powers, now

Against every hostile merciless force

Which may assail my body and my soul,

Against the false seer’s enchantments,

Against paganism’s dark laws,

Against heresy’s false standards,

Against idolatry’s deceits,

Against spells of witches, and smiths, and druids,

Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me now

Against every poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against death-wound,

That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ within me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ at my right,

Christ at my left,

Christ keeping the defense,

Christ setting the course,

Christ giving the orders,

Christ in every heart that thinks of me,

Christ in every mouth that speaks to me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

Today I bind unto myself Mighty Power, 

The Name of the Trinity:

Believing in the Threeness,

Holding fast the Oneness

Of the Creator of all the heavens and the earth.

Dominus est salus, Domini est salus, Christi est salus;

Salus tua, Domine, sit semper nobiscum.