September 24, 2023

Changes Coming Soon

 Dear Readers,

Thank you for reading this blog and for the encouragement through the years. It has been nearly twenty years since the blog Beginning to Pray began -- and you have been a blessing for my life.  This is to let you know that I will continue this blog for many more years, God willing, but in a different format.  In the coming weeks, as details are confirmed, I will pass them on to you.  

Anthony Lilles 

September 17, 2023

Truth, the Heart and the Sacred

"Lord, you love truth in the heart. In the secret of my heart, teach me wisdom."  David prayed these words after he repented of committing adultery with Uriah's wife and then killing him.  Through his sin, he discovered that his heart lacked wisdom and without the truth, he was given over to grave evil. He knew that he was worthy of punishment.  He knew he had caused such damage that he could never undo or heal what he had caused.  Yet what shattered him was that he was cut off from the sacred, unable to offer acceptable worship to God, without standing before the Lord - whose love was more precious to him than life. Yet God takes no delight in the misery of a sinner and yearned for his son to come to his senses. That beautiful prayer "teach me wisdom" reveals a man who has chosen to rise up from the pigpen and to set his chin for the Father's house.   

The Church and the world need this wisdom today.   Wisdom is a vision of the whole and a taste for the sacred. Without wisdom, the heart only sees broken fragments of the truth that excite a storm of passion but never provide ground firm enough for a man's existence. Without wisdom, without truth the heart lacks an orientation point, a banner around which it might rally its forces.  So the heart drifts from the sacred to the profane into chaos.  Standing on the truth, there is stability. The specific gravity of such ground is holiness - the only ground on which God deals with man face to face. Without it, life goes into a free fall.  This is exactly what David experienced -- and this deadly confusion is what we are also experiencing in the world and in the Church today.

Conversations in the Church that call into question fidelity and chastity can only lead to murder and the suffering of the most vulnerable.  This was St. Paul VI's basic insight in Humanae Vitae, a document that might have protected human life if only the faithful were helped to receive it.  He said that the practice of contraception is opposed to the conjugal act and would contribute to a contraceptive mentality among the faithful.  He reasoned that contraception violated the chastity proper to matrimony and robbed of chastity, a dark mentality would open to greater evils among believers.  He prophesied an increase in divorce and abortion. 

This prophetic word is fulfilled in our hearing, and yet few leaders have the wisdom of heart to call us to conversion. The rejection of Saint Paul VI's teaching contributes even now to a culture of death and this culture robs us of the courage we need for life. It is a mistake to believe that this rejection is first and foremost the reality of married couples. Those of us who teach must look in the mirror. There has been an abuse of the authority we have from Christ to teach the truth.  Ecclesial leaders are entrusted with authority to teach and pass on the deposit of faith, and failure to do so is a grave abuse that causes scandal ... and these are indeed scandalous times, times in which the lives of the most vulnerable are at stake. Those whose duty it is to teach have squandered the riches of Christ and chosen a pigpen. 

Recognizing the pigpen that into which too many leaders have led us is not for the sake of wallowing in self-pity.  It is precisely in a time of terrible scandal that we must beg Christ to teach us wisdom.  It is precisely when his apostles betrayed, denied and abandoned Him that He revealed in the most poignant and powerful way the wisdom of God.  So, today, when ecclesial leaders have followed the ways of their fathers, we must draw close to the Cross with the Christ's Mother and Beloved disciple.  

To stand under the shadow of the Cross in this way means not being naive about wolves who prey on the faithful. We must draw close to the Good Shepherd so that He can deal with the wolves. We must decry those who rip at the womb of the Church because of their own heartless lack of wisdom and cry for help. To draw near to Christ crucified, we must reject every form of falsehood.  We must have the courage to constantly speak the truth with love until our grammar includes Spirit-filled embodied actions of tongues, lips and hands. 

No one can declare the truth of our faith with enough boldness, but boldness comes through a return to personal prayer, to fasting and to works of mercy. We must again take up the Bible and read. We must again grab hold of those Rosary beads with the determination of the saints.  We must again find the hardness of earth with our knees. We must again embrace the Cross, practice self-denial and die to ourselves. We must begin again to confess our sins, to do penance, to make restitution, to offer sacrifice and to adore the Lord for His Eucharistic presence is filled with power.

In these ways, Christ will open the eyes of my heart to the goodness of the Father until I see enough to help others open their eyes too.  If only by yanking out the plank that blinds me do I help my brother see, then it is well past time that I yank it out.  This means renunciation and self-denial: turning off the media, the entertainment, the gossip, the detraction. This means turning the heart to solitude, to silence, to the Lord who waits for us in the dessert.  If such radical conversion of life requires trodding the narrow path of determination, humility and patient endurance, it also opens passage out of the pigpen of anxiety and resentment, a road to hope, a future filled with blessing, a journey to the Father's house. When suffering comes, and it will, this faithfulness to the wisdom of the saints makes space for the Lord to do something beautiful, to renew His whole mystery, and in the secret of our hearts, He will teach us wisdom.   

July 2, 2023

Entering into Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer is best begun under the Sign of the Cross. This physical action together with the words that recall our baptism opens access to the heart of God and protects from irrational powers that would otherwise oppose this holy effort.  The words of this simple prayer orient me to the Holy of Holies - Father, Son and Holy Spirit whose life bears me up and carries me into the Sanctuary not made by human hands.  The gesture puts me under the banner of Crucified love, and reveals the spiritual Seal of my heart.  As the Sign is traced on my body, my spirit bows before the Presence of the Lord.  My awareness is filled, and my heart stilled.  Now I am ready to wait upon the Word. 

As the Presence of God dawns in my heart, the light of truth shines on its labyrinthian ways.  The still small voice of conscience cries out and this prayer allows it to echo until compunction.  Finally, my feet find the firmness needed to bear the weight of my soul.

Contemplative prayer accessed by the Cross suffers the truth and discovers the humility of God.  His gentle kindness calms storms of wrath and self-pity.  The warmth of His love ignites the heart -- and the words of the Word resound in great canticles - for He calls me to stand before His Face. 

June 18, 2023

Spiritual Fatherhood and Elijah

A spiritual father is someone who serves the Lord and ministers God's word to another.  This is what Elijah did for King Abab of Isread.  Ahab, for his part, rejected this fatherhood at first.  Under the enchantment of a destructive marriage and idolatry, the king refused to believe. Instead, he pitted himself against the Lord.  The role of Elijah is to bring Ahab to a place where he might be fathered by God, where he might learn to be a son before the mystery of the Lord. The project took years but finally, Ahab briefly came into obedience, and in that brief moment of obedience he found the blessing of God and true freedom.  This spiritual liberty of being a son was short-lived. The deadly relationship with Jezebel stoled away the blessing that could have been his.  His life would go on to end tragically.  As far as Elijah, he too had to face death.  Anyone who is father to another in deadly peril knows that he too must face death with his son, even when his son refuses to be fathered.  Yet, the story does not end here and neither does spiritual fatherhood.  Rejected by Ahab, hunted by Jezebel, afraid for his life and wanting to die, Elijah was invited into an even deeper intimacy with the Lord. He discovered in the face of disaster the still small voice of hope, and through faith built a new future. The death others wished on him was thwarted and the power of God was revealed - when this spiritual father sustained himself on the bread of angels and dared to stand in prayer on the Mountain of the Lord.  

March 12, 2023

The Bread of Life and the Need of the Human Heart

Even earthly bread, if received with thanksgiving, is food for the heart. It joins us in fellowship and sustains not just our bodies, but something of our spirits too because of the love that it expresses. Yes - bread reveals the love of the one who provided it. This love is more important than the nutrients it contains.  If this is true of earthly gifts, how much more heavenly bread?   

God told Adam that he would need to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow among the thorns and thistles. Adam for his part suffered the labor for love of Eve and their children. So too God loves us - and suffers for us. God rained down manna for heaven when his people found themselves most in need of his providence.  Christ said that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. His bread was to do the will of the Father.  He also declared that He himself is the bread of life.  The Word of the Father is given as food for the heart.

From ancient times, the father of a family would break the bread and give it to the members of the household around his table. The offering of Melchizedek is a revelation of divine fatherhood, the paternal love that God has for humanity.  This is what this mysterious priest mediated to Abraham, father of many nations, when he made that ancient sacrificial bread offering.  Christ fulfills this mediation and endows these ancient cultic acts of taking, blessing, breaking, and distributing. He foreshadows this mystery in the multiplication of the loaves, He discloses its significance in his Bread of Life discourse. He establishes these actions in Him the night before He died. He seals their meaning with the offering of his body and blood on the Cross. The power of what he has entrusted to humanity opens eyes on the road to Emmaus. Hearts filled with fear and doubt are set ablaze with love.

The Eucharist, the great thanksgiving, feeds the heart what it most needs.  Without hope, the heart shrivels. The inevitability of death haunts our existence and crushing circumstances can cause us to lose our way. Something in us goads against death even as its alienating power threatens all that is most dear to us. How do we find our standing when our hearts are weak? Yet, God does not wish us to perish - so He feeds us with the Word of the Father, and our hearts, filled with new and eternal meaning, find strength to love again.