April 2, 2020

The Spiritual Battle and the Call to Prayer

First, I am so very grateful to all the first responders and the medical professionals who are on the frontline during these difficult days of pandemic. Their courage and dedication exemplifies what is good and noble about our humanity, and there is no way to repay them for the way they have put their lives on the line, not only here in America, but around the world.  Our civil servants and political leaders also have been dedicated and I am thankful to them for engaging tough discussions and tough decisions, and for keeping us informed. There is and will be adamant disagreement - that is part of our national character. Yet, deeper than our divisions, God is at work and our graciousness to one another during this time is a testimony to His providential guidance.  Finally, the men and women of our armed forces have also rallied for us, and I am very grateful for their sacrifices and leadership.

It is in this context that a deeper discernment of what is really going on in this pandemic needs consideration. Whenever things go wrong, there is a destructive tendency to want to point fingers, blame, find fault, and scapegoat one another. Yes, we have sinned, and the plight that we deserve for our actions is always before us.  However, instead of taking stalk and repenting for my own callousness (indeed, our own actions and judgments are the only things we can really change about the world), we point the finger at others: political leaders, foreign enemies, or anyone else I can distance myself from. We do this with God as well. He is the easiest to scapegoat, for He never defends Himself, but humbly accepts our accusations even when it costs Him everything. Yet the God of life has no desire that his children should suffer and die, and He will never abandon us, though it means going to the edge of doom to reach out and bring us home.  Such is the immensity of His love that even in the face of all this evil and fear, He remains.

Who is God? God is love. Christ, the image of the invisible God, revealed this to us when, in obedience to His Father, He stretch out His arms on the Cross to suffer our doom with us so that even should we die, we will have life. We who are in His Image and Likeness are made to make Him who is love known so that the truth about Him might enlighten the hearts of those who have lost their way. When we believe in Him, warmth returns to hearts that have grown cold. He has the power to forgive sin, to close the door to any evil we have let into our hearts. He is revealed every time we make the determined decision to love one another, no matter the cost, even in the smallest things. By faith, each moment of our lives flows from and leads back to the offering of love that Christ has poured out through His blood. Call on Him with faith and perseverance, and no matter the trial or oppressing circumstances, the love of God will triumph.

The battle we fight is not against mere flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). This is why playing the blame game with each other never really solves the problems that we must face. It would seem that the enemies of all that is good, noble and true about humanity have been unleashed with this virus. The evil we face is an ancient foe, a murderer from the beginning. He is the Accuser and he delights when we accuse, especially when we accuse God. Unable to bear his own fault, he faults God and all the goodness that comes from God. Bent on our destruction, he will work to bring out the worst in us. He plants rash judgment, sews distrust, stirs confusion, excites contention and robs of courage. His, however, is not the final word about humanity, and the misery in which he would engulf us has its limits. For God Himself has taken our side against this adversary, and no power in heaven, on earth or under the earth can come between us and the love of God.  On the basis of this love and for the sake of this love, we must resist the enemies of humanity and fight the spiritual battle that these times demand.

That is why such faith is called for today. Indeed, in the face of evil, affirming that God is a loving Father and that He is all powerful is one of the most difficult and one of the most powerful movements of heart the human person must learn to offer.  When loved ones suffer distress and we feel powerless to relieve it, or when a friend is isolated and afraid, and there seems to be no word of hope that can soothe his anxiety, it is precisely in these moments where we must cleave to our faith in the God who is Love and ask for His help. He who descended into Hell to liberate our first parents is no less dedicated to our liberation from anything that might compromise our integrity or threaten our dignity.  the Lord is our Savior and His saving help is only a prayer away: Oh Savior, save us!

March 25, 2020

The Annunciation - The Beauty of God and the Faith that Receives

The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary reveals the mystery of the Gospel to the world, a mystery of such profound beauty that it can change our lives forever if we turn our hearts to it.  The Annunciation is the manifestation of beauty from above into this lowly world below and its light illumines and warms the hearts of all who will seek it with the eye of faith.  Moreover, this splendor is not a passive reality -- God has sent it into the world to evoke the deepest response, a response so powerful that it restores our humanity and raises it above itself.  Jessica Powers, Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit, was a Carmelite poet who died in 1988.  One of her poems, Beauty, Too, Seeks Surrender, includes these lines:

God takes by love what yields to love,
then pours a glowing allness
past the demolished walls and towers
into the spirit's smallness.

God's beauty, too, surrender seeks
and takes in the will's lull
whatever lets itself be changed
into the beautiful.

An encounter with the truly beautiful evokes the most humanizing surrender, drawing the heart to love, unlocking powers to love which until that moment were latent and hidden to the soul.  Beauty's truth and goodness pull forth from the deepest depths an intense longing, tender joy and holy sorrow all at once. Suddenly the heart bursts with such aching fullness and one's very being can no longer contain itself. One's whole existence must be given over, yielding to the love that beauty manifests. So it is beauty that unlocks the heart's capacity to be taken by love and to yield to love.

Anyone who has heard or seen what is truly beautiful knows this experience. One does not seize beauty but surrenders and yields to its sweet call.  Beauty evokes a kind of reverence because there is something holy about it.  Real beauty can sometimes cause a soul to freeze with fear or to turn away in timidity. Yet, if a soul is patient with the moment, it knows that its cowardice could cost it the chance of happiness not only for oneself but for all those one most loves.

When a man sees his future bride and hears her offer her heart, come what come may, because of what he has seen and heard, his life will never be the same again. This is true beauty. He must give himself to what has been given to him. Something worth laying down one's life has impressed itself irrevocably and he knows all at once not to respond to this call is to be diminished. What is beautiful has laid claim over the soul - and the soul is forever more beautiful because of this.  This logic grounds marriage's indissolubility and reflects the sacred order that exists in every genuine encounter with the Lord.

When we encounter the Lord, his beauty is not the less than it was at the moment of the Annunciation. Instead, what holds Him back from giving Himself the more to us is our lack of faith.  We believe, we complain, we beg Him to help our lack of faith. This is a good start -- an opening in humility that allows Him to unveil his beauty to us in new and more powerful ways.  He will give us the faith to behold his hidden beauty shine, to hear his silent canticle resound, and as we learn to see and hear, we like His Mother, will offer the surrender He seeks.

Christ is the Bridegroom sent by the Father and His beauty seeks surrender - because He has already surrendered Himself for our sake. Surrender is the form revealed in his radiant clarity, his due proportion, and the wholeness by which He has come to us.  Because the Angel's greeting disclosed such warmth and light, not even the broken walls and towers of that same hubris we know today could distort its meaning.

This message from above was the most beautiful truth that earthly ear has ever heard.  Gabriel revealed the shadow of the Most High, and in that sacred darkness what splendor shone in Mary's eyes! In that hidden and still silent eternal goodness, she knew love and loving offered her consent. In that most sacred moment in human history, God took by love all that Mary yielded to love - and she yielded everything - her entire soul, life's blood and body. In her yielded "yes" her heart saw and heard by faith the unsurpassed wonder of the Word even before her womb conceived.

What kind of faith allowed her to yield so radically to love?  Her attitude was one of a handmaid, a humble servant. She identified with the lowly, the hungry, the powerless, those who fear the Lord and those who trust in Him. This means, among other things, that she was grounded in her humanity and at peace with the limits of being a creature before the Lord. Such humility allowed God to pour "glowing allness" into her smallness. Such faith does not grasp but receives what it asks for. What it confidently seeks, it gratefully finds because it knocks and humbly waits until the door is opened.