January 15, 2022

The Pathway of Extreme Humility

Jesus Christ has opened up the pathway to freedom and this pathway is the pathway of extreme humility. It is a trail blazed by the Word made flesh and a journey that leads to the Burning Bush where the limitlessness of God sets the limits of man aflame with love. Love alone knows how to find this trail and faith, unshod and thus vulnerable, progresses step by step into what would seem to be powerlessness.  Such a journey is never an evading of responsibility but it is courageously engaging the task at hand with total reliance on God.  It is a pilgrimage that one makes under the authority and power of heaven. 

The earth is filled with chaos and its own power and authority are subject to futility and death. For this reason, no earthly power ever succeeds in stemming death.  Yet, the temptation is to grasp for and covet control even to the point of coercing the behavior of others. Indeed, in a world that is passing away, self-preservation means either gaining control over circumstances as long as possible or else losing it all together. The more one lives by the struggle for earthly power and authority in this way, the more one's own freedom is diminished until one is competely subservient to the very power coveted. 

On the royal pathway of true freedom, recourse is made to earthly power only as love for Christ deems necessary and then it is quickly surrendered. Indeed, regarding the possession of earthly power and authority, the pathway of extreme humility requires total indifference to anything that is not God's will.  Rather than taking control for the sake of control, one patiently provides order only to the degree that others might be drawn to the truth by love. 

This kind of indifference to earthly power is impossible except to those who by faith live under the power and authority of heaven. In the Kingdom of Heaven, confidence in the Father overcomes earthly fears and anxieties.  Even if one dies, death is defeated and sin has no claim over the heart before the love of God. Instead, a love stronger than death reigns over the chaos of life and leads to the sacred until one crosses the threshold into God's order and peace.  

A true orientation point for one's whole being is found when one takes off one's shoes before this Burning Bush and listens with the ears of one's own heart. Here, true authority and power are given not grasped in accord with one's identity and mission before the Lord. Here, God opens His Heart and one learns to rest in the glory of His Name.

December 25, 2021

Christmas Light

Christmas is a special holy day. Normally, on holy days, there is one mass that is celebrated.  Three masses are celebrated for Christmas - at Midnight, at first light and for the rest of the day.  Each of these masses celebrates a sacred characteristic of the Christmas light. 

At Midnight, the Christmas light celebrated in the liturgy is brighter than day in the dark of night and filled with angles and their songs. Thus, we celebrate the Mass of the Angels. It is that primordial and undimmed radiance shining above the world's darkness from before the sun and the moon, on the first day of creation. This angelic light shows shepherds the way to the Messiah and evokes the gift of faith.

At Dawn, the Christmas light celebrated in the liturgy is a new morning glory. It is the first light of day and under these rays those tending flocks beheld with human eyes the saving wonder heralded by heaven. Thus, we celebrate the Mass of the Shepherds.  The brightness of this new beginning is the only newness the tired out cycles of historical life have ever known. These cycles are subject to death. But this light reveals salvation has begun. Wrapped up in the swaddling clothes of a visible existence, First Truth babbles in humanity at last. It is the sacred truth that dawns in the chaos of the world to bring hope.

In the Day, the Christmas light celebrated in the liturgy is a glory that the powers of darkness cannot defeat. Thus we celebrate the Mass of the Nations. In this liturgy, our hearts are filled with a victorious and sovereign light of peace, a light that no darkness can overcome, the light of eternal life. This unending light awaits us in the world to come but it also shines even now whenever we dare to love for the sake of God.

December 24, 2021

The Word and Silence

In the Nativity of the Lord, the cries of the world, the cries of the human heart and the cries of God coincide.  These shared sighs and aches unveil silences overshadowed by Divine Power and out of which the Savior comes.  

Though unaided reason is ignorant of His presence, God has never been indifferent to the plight of even the least of His creatures. He is always at work on their behalf. That is why we find Him throughout the Scriptures searching in the world's silences and poverties as a shepherd seeks out lost sheep in a wilderness or a father his lost son.  

The Living God implicates Himself in the misery of the most forgotten, overlooked and rejected until He too is rejected, overlooked and forgotten. He is not disgusted with his children when they cry to Him no matter how lost they are. He eagerly takes them home and embraces the consequences of their sins, suffering them with the wisdom that knows that evil is not without limits. Love goes farther than hatred, lasts longer than resentment and bitterness. Love heals what we have destroyed.   

Such a pathway involves humiliation in the short run and in the exigency of the moment looks as certain defeat. But God's love is never defeated. In the pure excess of His love, God chooses the humiliated and the humble even to the point of his own humiliation and death. But His love is stronger than death and the chaos of Hell has no hold on this Light. So He raises up those who are bowed down and refreshes them for the great journey home. The humble "yes" of those who choose to serve Him leads to all this and more. The object of his Divine Affection, these are the souls who He invites into even deeper silences, spacious places that the world cannot know, nights so dark that they alone can hold a light brighter than day. 

For those who choose to trust Him, He invites them to go where no creature has ever gone before. He makes this invitation by entrusting to them His Son. The invitation is by way of faith, the decision to believe when this choice seems most difficult to make. This is because trust alone welcomes God and trust only becomes strong when it is tested. The Word comes to those who will welcome him in times of trial and hardship - He sees the strength of His Father in them, and this delights His heart. He comes in the vulnerability of a baby. He comes as the pure gift of the Father for no other reason than love and love alone. 

Into the silence of the world, the Father has spoken his Word.  Into humanity's deepest silence, the Word entered and resounded.  That deepest silence was in the form of "let it be done to me." It is not only a silence of soul but also a silence of body, a taking flesh in a loving womb because so perfectly held in a humble heart. Sin does not know this silence but through this silence the Word communicates power to overcome sin. This same power waits to be enfleshed in our own lives too - a transformation in light and love. 

December 5, 2021

St. Nicholas and the Byzantine Monks of Northern California

One of my favorite churches is the Temple of St. Nicholas at Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Redwood Valley, California. The Byzantine Monastery was founded by Abbot Boniface Luykx, a Norbertine who participated as a periti at Vatican II. He was convinced that the Church needed to recover the riches of the East so he began to found Ukrainian monasteries first in Africa and then here in America. 

I made a retreat at this beautiful place of prayer in Advent of 1988. The chanting and the silence, the icons and the forest, the fasting and the joy all live in my heart this many years later. Most of all, the bells calling us to prayer, ringing out through the valley, reminding the heart of resonances beyond this world. I remember the powerful conversation that I had with the Abbot. I remember also the witness of the monks - their dedication, perseverance, authentic joy. 

Just as has been the case in so many communities, the monastery went through many difficult trials. Even still, Fr. Raymond Gawronski, so instrumental in building up the spirituality year in Denver and laying out the vision for a spiritual formation program at St. Patrick's in Menlo Park, joined the monastery and found in its way of life an island of humanity.  Notwithstanding natural and supernatural hardships, the community is dedicated to drawing close to the Lord and to conversion of life.  The rhythm of silence and intense liturgy is challenging and refreshing at the same time.  The monastery chapel, called the Temple of St. Nicholas, is at the very center of this holy work for God. 

That this space should be dedicated to St. Nicholas is fitting. This saint was a man above all who encountered the Lord in a world that was hostile to the faith.  The monks of Mt. Tabor also live by this encounter in historical and cultural circumstances not unlike those of the saint. Though he lived very simply in self-imposed poverty, St. Nicholas was known to be a very generous man and a giver of secret gifts to those most in need. This spirit lives in the monastery where souls come with all kinds of poverty to find the riches of Christ.  The monks, as did the saint, live dedicated to conversion from sin, rigorous asceticism and kindness to others. This attracts young men who want something other than a meaningless and indulgent life. If St. Nicholas was noted for his loving concern for those entrusted to his pastoral care, so too the monks of Mt. Tabor who provide a refuge for those needing shelter from the fire storm of secularism raging in our time. 

We need places of refuge and prayer, sacred places of healing and holiness to put us in touch with the truths to which St. Nicholas witnessed. If the monastery protects a great truth about living out our faith through dedication to the praise of God, St. Nicholas was a man of deep prayer who safeguarded the truth of the faith with courage. If the monks are dedicated to dying to themselves out of devotion to Christ, the presence of St. Nicholas in their midst reminds them that the love of God is more powerful than death. 

There are many stories of St. Nicholas coming to the aid of the poor in his own lifetime even raising from death those who suffered under great evil. Among the monks, there are men who also have been raised up by Christ to begin the discipline of the Christian life anew.  After his death, the number of miracles attributed to him confirmed that St. Nicholas was a wonder-worker for the whole Church. Mt. Tabor also is a place of miracles where the veil of our Lady protects souls in peril. 

November 28, 2021

Silences Filled with Meaning

Prayer that waits for Christ's coming in glory opens to silences filled with meaning.  The silences that live in the shared gaze of lovers or at the bedside of a dying family member are filled with meanings too deep for words. The depths of these silences approach prayer because they reach down to what is truly sacred in life. Prayer, however, plunges even deeper than these tenderest moments - it knows the tenderness of the King who comes.

Prayer knows an abyss deeper than the depths of eros and death. In that silent depth, prayer discerns the exquisite melodies that the unaided heart cannot hear - but aches to know. This abyss down into which prayer descends is bottomless and the silences there are pregnant with meanings too much for space and time to contain. 

Every human love and every misery are circumscribed in the meaningful silence that prayer explores. In the depths of this contemplative prayer, earthly friendships are purified and vindicated because they are re-established in deeper truths than space and duration can bind.  Betrayal, denial and abandonment do not define the heart that pours itself out in this way. Instead prayer unlocks mysteries more powerful than every human frailty. Death itself ceases to be the last word about one's existence, for this prayer accesses new life. 

Fear of death is an absence of faith but prayer under the shadow of the Cross triumphs over death.  This prayer under the darkness of Christ's last wordless cry conquers disintegration.  Prayer re-establishes and heals bonds between the body and its powers, between body and soul, between one's own soul and souls of one's neighbors, between the soul and God.  Prayer unleashes the courage to love where love seems most absent. Prayer gives birth to hope when all seems most lost. In the face of hardness of heart, prayer draws down the power to forgive and to seek forgiveness. The prayer of faith, the prayer that lives in the Church, the prayer of the Church, this prayer brings back to life.

This kind of prayer is a baptism into the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer knows that His Cross establishes such new silences in the heart that even after so many centuries we have hardly explored their breadth and length, height and depth. Prayer sees His radiance as it illumines all human loves and fears, even in the darkest night.  Prayer find rest even in suffering because His peace conquers rancor in the heart even as the world falls down around us.  

By prayer, His truth dispels lies even when the exigency of the moment attempts to limit our freedom. Prayer is convinced that the bottomlessness of his mercy is deeper than the abyss of any misery. Prayer holds fast His imminent return and instills that conviction that His justice swift even when evil seems to be winning the day.  When the sorrow of death stings in the moment, prayer discovers that His consolation is forever.  When the heart feels most empty, prayer is filled with Him.