December 13, 2017

Advent and John the Baptist

In the Season of Advent, we should allow ourselves experience the mystery of John the Baptist. His voice rings in our conscience and when we hear it, God is able to make space in our hearts for the joy of Christmas. The Baptist's voice sets a limit on the power and authority of the world in our lives. His voice reminds us of the truth about marriage and family, about faithfulness and sin, about God and our neighbor.

If we are comfortable, the Baptist makes us uneasy.  If we are arrogant, His voice humbles us. If we are confused, he is there to clarify. If we are discouraged, he helps us find the heart we need. This inner voice prepares for the Coming of Word of the Father. It is a voice that helps us recognize the truth that we need. If we do not hear this voice, it is easy to forget what it means to be, not only a Christian. but even decent human being. Such is the mission of the Baptist in the life of the Church and the plan of God.

We need to listen to the voice of John the Baptist anew. In our great wealth and power, we have become spiritually dull. In our self-conceit and self-interest, we live imprisoned in our egos - and remain powerless to help others find freedom.  In our fear of discomfort and inconvenience, we have robbed ourselves of the greatness of God's love. The witness of the Baptist cuts through fear, self, wealth and power - and makes us vulnerable to the truth once again.

To listen to the voice of the Baptist requires us to withdraw into our hearts and be still.  It requires the confession of sin and the readiness to commit ourselves to reparation for what we have done and not done for others. It requires us to listen to the suffering of those often alienated and sometimes tormented souls that God has entrusted to us. The voice of the Baptist can be in the distressing outburst of an autistic child, or in the quiet sobs of a grieving widow. His voice whispers among the brokenhearted who have lost it all and it calls out among the cynical who risk being lost forever. This call to love requires patient vigilance.  To make space for this voice in our lives, we must welcome the inconvenience and discomfort it causes - this suffering is salvific. 

None of this is comfortable, but it makes all the difference in life. If we let what this prophet says change our judgments about ourselves, the world, and God, a pathway to reconciliation, integrity and fulfillment is opened before us. Listening to the Baptist and heeding his call to repentance fills in valleys of indifference and levels mountains of sin. Our whole being and existence is made ready for the coming of Word of the Father into the reality of our lives - a suffering joy that not only makes life meaningful, but lifts up everyone around us.

December 7, 2017

Advent of that Mysterious Joy

Broods the cosmos in painful rending
Beyond infinity’s gentle bending
Over misery’s edge in galaxy far
A lost people on some forgotten star
Glory there with delicate care abides

Superintelligences cannot fathom
The hidden secret’s tender anthem
For they from above all time and space charge hastening
To the garden, to guard, to wield swords in chastening
Where envy’s deceit resides

Until heaven, song and peace bestowing
On lowly shepherds and sheep lowing,
Beheld revolving all hearts, and stars, and years, and land
Around what humble Godhead offers man,
And that mysterious joy besides.

November 27, 2017

Of Word and Silence

Only those who do not understand silence believe that all kinds of silence are the same. Not limited to the mere absence of noise, there are different kinds of silence on earth, in the heavens and in hell - though a deeper silence informs them all. We are made to listen to this quiet stillness that lives even in the midst of noise and is never disturbed by its ambiguity.

Many fear an emptiness that silence sometimes sustains. There is, however, a silence that is not empty. A vulnerable silence is shared in the glancing recognition of hearts that love one another. Something too great for mere words lives in the reassuring hand offered to the broken soul. More than any word can convey is quiet solidarity that one offers a friend in death.

Because our hearts ache for a silence that we do not have, some seek pathways that would still the unquenchable gnaw of unfulfilled desire. Some strive to be mindful of the present moment in an effort to find relief from their tormenting thoughts and memories. Others strive for a psychic state to set themselves above the turmoil of the day to day grind. Others pursue the next evolutionary step for human consciousness with the hopes of charting a new spiritual course. Yet all of these kinds of silence, no matter how effective in consoling and surmounting painful exigencies, cannot avoid the finality of death and its disintegrating power. These natural modes of interior serenity cannot overcome sin or forgive it -- and are, therefore, as subject to its futility as is every other unaided human activity.

There is, however, a silence that heals, uplifts, and ignites a desire for something greater.  This majestic calm can live even the the midst of racing thoughts and oppressing anxieties. Such serenity is hidden from human industry and reasoning. No technique or method can find secret fountain. Yet, its call haunts us in our pride.

When approached in humility and faith, this merciful silence is ready to run and embrace us while we are still far away.  Unearned, unmerited, unexpected, for the price of our tears, this quiet stillness pays us in full, no matter how little we have labored. This silent plethora binds our wounds and restores our dignity, no matter how beat up we are on the path of life. A mere mustard seed of this tender lull fulfills every desire and surpasses all our hopes. In the form of a pure gift, the wisest have sacrificed all they have to acquire this buried treasure, while only the most childlike fully possess this precious pearl.

In this creative silence, everything meaningful is conceived and directed, even when it is not received and forever rejected. Each human heart and the whole human adventure were born out of the hope that this silence holds for us. We did not trust this loving solitude. We did not allow it to enter into the deep places of the heart.

This fullness of life and presence could have purified us and intensified our whole existence -- for we bear the image and likeness of this great mystery, and we live to make known its glory.  Never imposing itself, the secret of this immense solitude provides the space for self gift and self possession, of relation and communion, of action and contemplation. A hidden and humble quietude, if we deny it, it will deny us. It never abandons us, however, no matter how often we abandon it, because this eternal silence is faithful to itself. This mysterious speechlessness beckons between the beats of one's own heart, in the space between the inhale and exhale of a single breath, at the end of one thought and before the beginning of the next.

That we might know this ever-flowing Spring, the One who has always proceeded from the silent stillness of the Father's heart was conceived when this same Stillness overshadowed the woman's womb. Born in poverty and nurtured in exile, the Father's Word established the still point around which all of human history and each human heart revolve. Living among us, with every heartbeat, every breath, every thought, every word, every work until, climaxed in wordless cry and final breath, the silenced Word fully disclosed the great secret that the Father yearned to entrust to us in crucified glory.

The Father would not allow rejection, betrayal, humiliation, denial, injustice, and death to silence the Word who proceeds from His silent love. The secret of the Father is more powerful than the rancor of sin and death. He raised His Crucified Word, and in raising Mary's Son, Christ's obedient love has the power of raising all of creation. Having implicated Himself in our plight, we are raised by the Word crucified by love. In all the noise and confusion that threaten to reduce us to mere cogs in the wheel of human industry, our union in faith to the Word of the Father makes us vulnerable to tender silence that heaven knows.

This means that noise of misery and evil do not have the last word on what it means to be a man or woman. Beyond the power of death, the hidden eloquence of God's immense love defines human existence.  So full, so rich, so beautiful -- all words fail, speechless adoration overcomes the soul - the same speechlessness that the Divine Persons share imprints itself in us. New meaning floods over our existences even now, in this difficult hour and in this grace filled moment. A saving silence rises above the silence of death and cacophony of sin.

November 10, 2017

On the Ocean of Christ's Love

The power of Christ is immense and at the same time hidden.  It is as if we were in the hull of a ship unaware of the great ocean on which we rest or even that we are in a ship at all.  We feel tossed and turned, and upset that this has disturbed our rest, completely oblivious that great currents are directing our ship homeward.  We are irritated with fellow passengers who are as ignorant as we are – and don’t you know that there are some rats on board as well, disgusting and frustrating us – even to the point that we think their stench is ours.

It’s time to wake up, shake off your slumber and to remember who you are.  You are a baptized son of the Most High and you are sailing forth on the great Bark of Peter, sailing across the ocean of Christ’s love to our Fatherland, to the place prepared for us – for the Father has made us for greatness.  You are not made for the filth of wrath or self-pity or scrupulosity – but to stand like a man on the shores of salvation and cry out to the Living God and be heard by Him, to His great delight! 

Remember who you are and do not let the rats distract you.  The rats are but demonic vermin who frighten, steal food and make a mess. Ignore them unless you can throw one overboard into immensity of the blood of Christ.  

To remember who you are, simply climb out of the hull of the daily grind and step out into the starlight of prayer. Walk across the deck of silence and do not fear the plank of solitude. Shake off the squalor of scrupulosity – and bath yourself in the love that holds up the whole Church.  

As you plunge into Christ, search for the Star of the Sea – her light reassures you that you have found your way.  Let her maternal presence comfort you as a mother her son – for she understands your agony and stands with you through it all – just as she did her own Son.  Then refreshed, cloth yourself anew with Christ and climb back down to the hull and give your fellow travelers a word of hope.  This is your great mission and purpose. 

October 8, 2017

The Dynamism of Truth's Splendor in Prayer

The splendor of the truth is a mystery discovered by the obedient, and this obedience, explains Saint John Paul II, is not easy.  On August 6, 1993, on the very Eve of World Youth Day in Denver Colorado, the Pilgrim Pope proposed anew the Church's moral tradition. He did so precisely because the question about how one should live this life is the question that the Church is sent to help men and women discern. It is a question that opens to and ends in prayer and praise. It is a question that reveals how a human being is simply a work in progress.  If we live well, an ever greater freedom and nobility is ours.  If we fail our task, we can be trapped in the prison of our own selfishness.

The truth contains its own compelling grandeur and its breathtaking horizons, but there is something in us that resists it. In his encyclical, Splendor of the Truth, Saint John Paul connects this to relativism and skepticism. No one can argue that the failure to rise to the occasion is an advancement of human freedom.  No one truly believes that doubting the possibility of human greatness makes anyone great. Yet, whenever we allow relativism or skepticism to have a foothold, it is always diminishing for everyone - whether in marriage and family, or in healthcare and services for the most vulnerable, or our schools and places of work, or in our neighborhood and the public square.

In an age of banal and odious nihilism, true greatness is realized in the humble recognition of what one ought to do in response to the truth, and the steadfast resolve to do it no matter what even in the face of one's own inadequacies. It is about faithfulness to our friends and to our commitments. It is also about the proper restraint and the readiness to give the benefit of the doubt. It is about vigilant awareness of one's own blindspots and the humility that allows another to help us see what we might have missed. It is about that courage that speaks the truth with love. John Paul II exemplified how such readiness to do what is right cannot be limited by selfish whims or lack of resolve in its devotion. Because he was steadfast in his love, he helped us see this freedom as taken up by Christ on the Cross to become a perfect offering to the Father.

The splendor of the truth, the radiance of what we ought to do, raises a great moral (and therefore, an inherently human) question: will we rise to the dignity that has been given us by God, or will we betray ourselves? Progress in human maturity, for an individual and for a society, depends entirely on how this question is answered.

This question is addressed in the depths of our hearts. It resounds in the ambiguous circumstances of the world. Resonating with our very being, it makes at once a gentle and irrevocable appeal, causing us to question our judgments and revisit our decisions. Those deaf to this call can be suddenly caught off guard by its beauty, and even those who are vulnerable to its sound never cease to be amazed and challenged.

For a heart vulnerable to this kind of beauty, the gravity of what is at stake draws it out of itself. There is a freedom from "self" when something more wonderful than self-concern has seized a soul. Such a heart discovers the freedom to let go of every blinding bias. Impossible situations cannot thwart its hope. Its resolve and integrity echo more loudly than the cacophony in which it would seem to be engulfed. Under the shadow of truth's splendor, the heart that is attentive has found ground to stand on,  and in the shade of this peace, love has a place to make its stand.

Silent prayer knows this splendor. The soul that attends to this still small voice knows that to render what this splendor evokes is to be filled with a fullness of life. Such a soul will suffer the truth in silent prayer because it knows that to fall short of the opportunity at hand is to diminish the whole of humanity. Indeed, when the prayerful find a way to be obedient to the appeal of the truth, they have "standing" in the shadow of this splendor -- and by their standing magnify a little of heaven's light and warmth in a world that has lost its way.