February 5, 2017

Marriage and the Word of the Father

When it comes to marriage, as to the rest of life, the Word of the Father does not offer us a fairytale, but a reason for our hope. He does not offer a happy ending in this life, but suffering, and the promise of glory in the life to come- for He commands us to deny ourselves and follow in His footsteps.  Whatever becomes of our marriages and our families, there is no room for anxiety or despair - for the Bridegroom calls. His voice resounds in both sorrow and joy, hope and anxiety. He is waiting for our response. To accept Him, come what come may, is to journey forward, even if in complete humiliation, towards a fullness of joy too great for this life to contain.

This journey progresses by means of the Cross - this means believing in God's love in all manner of hardships and trials, even when all human love seems to fail.  Only those who dare to make this journey, however, discover that love that no power or abyss of misery can overcome.  The love that awaits us ahead is stronger than death - and even if we die, death in the face of this love is not the last word.  For in this love and by this love we live.

This Love is a gift. He comes to us in the form of "the Word" spoken by the Father into our flesh. He comes full of confidence into our difficult life history - that common story in which each of us shares, and those particular sorrows that no one else can share with us, but Him.  In the midst of this life's storm, the silent majesty of this Divine Word is filled with a longing for our humanity that is deeper and more ancient than our resistance to Him. The soul's Deepest Center, He draws a response from places so deep in our being that we do not even know they exist. Even in the most bitter catastrophe, a hidden hope gestates because of the salvation that He has come to bring.

The One who aches for faithfulness is never indifferent to tears shed over married love.This Light walks into the darkness of failed or struggling marriages undaunted. He is confident even when we have completely lost our confidence. He walks on top of the waves of despair and reaches to pull us above the flood if we will turn our eyes to Him and cry for help.  In the face of an angry and hostile world, in our weaknesses and voids, He indissolubly fashions marriage and sanctifies it by His blood -- changing our limited efforts to give ourselves in service to one another into a wellspring of grace.

The Word by which all things were made, including marriage itself, waits for couples to seek Him in the silence of Eucharistic Adoration. He is present to those husbands and wives who in their humiliation and feelings of abandonment trust in Him. Through a family's icons He beholds the candlelight shining on the faces of both the betrayed and the betrayer, and He hears the faith that cries out to Him from pain. Before the barren wall that bears His Cross, He weeps with those who weep. His silent fullness fills every emptiness. His last wordless cry establishes meaning even when a marriage's crushing circumstances seem to render everything meaningless.

The conqueror of death, the Risen One has opened the gates even to the hell that we make of our lives and families. Where no other connection seems left, He is all the connection that we really need. For couples who need integrity restored, He is ready to become their integrity.  For couples whose purity is compromised, He is ready to purify anew.  He liberates from cycles of shame and disgrace. He establishes trust and peace. For couples that need a new beginning, He is the Word that is from the Beginning.

When we struggle against running away from heartache and are loathed to face the truth, the One who is True finds His rest in bearing even the most bitter struggles with us in love. He provides courage for those difficult conversations. He makes it possible to humble oneself, to forgive, to be forgiven. The Man of Sorrows is ever ready to teach how to intercede for the one who has betrayed, denied and abandoned his friend. He is ready to baptize a couple in His compassion when they have deeply saddened one another.

The humble presence of the Truth Himself causes pride to fall, and raises up from bitter humiliation. Because He is righteous and true, this Mighty Warrior does not fail to fight for faithfulness. Because He has overcome, not even addictions or depression or long painful illnesses can prevent His love from prevailing. Even when one's own life's companion will not hear His voice, He is enough to fill even the most difficult life with joy.  Against every obstinacy, He evokes conversion of heart and puts the whole of one's life into dialogue with the love of the Father.

The radiance of the Bridegroom purifies and transforms all our loves the more we make space for Him in our lives. The more a couple will allow Him to captivate their hearts, the easier it is to surrender everything to Him.  He treasures those fleeting moments of unexpected victory when husband and wife stand together in faith. He is amazed and gives thanks to the Father when together with Him they lift up their hearts in thanksgiving -- because of all of these mysterious blessings that they do not understand and struggle to receive.

January 29, 2017

Paradoxes and Prayer

To enter deep into the mystery of prayer opens the heart to certain paradoxes. A humble cry of the heart knows blessings disguised in difficult poverty, meekness, sorrow, hunger, thirst, and persecution.  When such prayer is pure, merciful, and persevering under trial - it actually tastes the things of heaven. The extent of such prayer reaches from the joy of the lowly who are exalted to the sorrow of the mighty who are cast down.  A heart pierced with the love that this prayer knows can be amazed over the hungry who are filled with good things, and the well fed who are sent away hungry. This searching for the eyes of the One who looks on us with love renders us vulnerable to the tragedy of the rich young men who go away sad, and the sheer grace that other men such as Zaccheaus should rejoice to have Christ enter their homes.  This attending carefully to the Word of the Father discovers with holy fear how teachers of the faith and religious authorities are silenced, while the speech of the mute and simple laid open and made bold.  In the humble lifting of one's hands in faith we can wonder over how the prayer of the sinner is heard, and the prayer of the self-assured is rejected.  Bathed in such wonders, we are bowed in adoration and lifted on high with praise.

December 27, 2016

The Word Made Flesh and the Wonder of Christmas

The wonder of the Nativity of the Lord, that holy silence that received the Word, evokes deep prayer. No human achievement, no technique, no method could ever achieve what is freely given during this Holy Season. Only humility can welcome the humility of God that this feast knows.

The freshness of this coming of the Word at Christmas is the only truly new thing that this tired old world has ever known. Having implicated Himself in our weakness and poverty, the Word of the Almighty God makes Himself as vulnerable now in our hearts as He was as a newborn baby.  With great concern for the dignity of each one, He is careful not to overwhelm or to force, but to be present in a manner that is at once subtle, gentle and kind. Not afraid of rejection, He exercises His great power to address us by means of a bold invitation, a surprising appeal, an insistent cry of the heart. So great and inexhaustible is His desire for us that He constantly comes in ways that are never the same, always new - as if each Noel were the first Noel and the only Noel that He had ever offered.  

Life-giving in the face death, He comes anew today to illuminate the Divine Tenderness towards us that we have too long shut our eyes against. His radiance draws, attracts and captivates. Why resist such beauty? This Light that our darkness cannot overcome is ever ready to save, to comfort, to raise up. What is more, in this Christmas Glory we see that God Himself longs to be held like a baby, to be carried, to be consoled.  Bound in swaddling cloths for our sake, the smile of Divine Word on us awakens hope and provides that new beginning we thought we could never have. The Virgin's Baby does so all in a moment pregnant with truth, in a whisper that roars through our hearts,

December 24, 2016

The Birth of Christ - a mystery for our hearts

"The Word of the Father constantly desires to be embodied" declared Saint Maximus the Confessor.  This is what Fr. Cantalamessa preached for Advent and his message lifts us up into the mystery of Christmas.  Christ born of the Virgin Mary in history now desires to be born in our hearts by mystery.   This is the grace of the mass - the Christmas - that we celebrate tonight and tomorrow.

In Christ's birth in history, there is a new birth for humanity in mystery. Such is the new life that God begets in us because He was born as one of us.  To celebrate Christmas is to say "yes" to this birth in one's own life.  By a simple movement of faith, one can claim this new birth for one's own. A humble assent of the heart to this inestimable gift is all it takes to share in this joy.

What we sanction with our hearts must be lived out - or we have not really sanctioned it. Good intentions must be acted upon - or they die hidden away where they do no good. To sanction this mystery is to be open to a deeper trust in the loving plan of the Father.  He has given us everything we need in giving us His Son. When we possess Christ by faith, we possess all that we need to live by love and for love.

This kind of faith means, on an even deeper level, cleaving to Jesus and relying on Him, just as He cleaved to his Mother and learned to rely on her as a new born. When we turn away from power struggles in our relationships with each other, this mystery helps us accept our poverty before God with the hope that comes from Him.  Because of His generous goodness, we can let go of anxieties. With His life in us, we can silence our righteous indignation and be amazed at the mercy of God.

Faith in the Son of Mary born for our sakes empties us of "self" just as He emptied Himself of His Divinity.  This is a pathway of humility up which we progress by a simple act of trust  - choosing to fill this present moment with all the love we can even when love seems impossible. In particular, to participate in the mystery of Christmas is to be, like God, ready to forgive, and this divine readiness in us should make us even more ready to seek forgiveness.

For those who know this new birth in their hearts, Jesus's birth is no artifact. Instead they, like Emmanuel, entrust their new existence into the loving arms of Mary until her "Fiat" informs their own.  In the swaddling clothes which bound the Savior, they find their new freedom. In the first cries of the Word made flesh they hear that mysterious jubilation that animates all that which is truly Christian.  

December 19, 2016

Christmas Trees and Prayer in Advent

In these last days of Advent, we decorate our Christmas Trees and light our wreathes. If we pray, the candles can remind us that the One who is above has come and is still coming down to dwell with us. He has descended from the heavens to enter into the plight of humanity -- in this present fullness of time. The wood of the tree might remind us of the wood of the Cross.  The fresh pine branches, of the new life that comes from Him.  With a simple movement of the heart, a Christmas Tree can become a sign that reminds us from where He came, and to where He leads.
One of my favorite childhood memories is going to the mountains in the days before Christmas to find a tree.  The mountain air, the smell of the forest, and the search for just the right one made for an exciting adventure. The adventure also had unexpected moments of solitude and silence. Sometimes, the quiet beauty of the wilderness would even catch you in wonder.
When we finally brought our Christmas Tree into the house to decorate, the solitude of the forest and the mountains also filled our house. God's presence seemed as heavy as the smell of fresh-cut pine. Especially in the silence of the night in  the days before Christmas, the tree and all it signified helped me to pray.
The mountains and forests of this life signify spiritual realities. Earth and sky are more than visible, physical things. What we see with our eyes points to those heights and depths that God sees in Himself.  He has filled our hearts with the image and likeness of these invisible mysteries. Out of our depths, He draws us up to seek the glory of His face. The more we search for this loving mystery that hovers over us, the more deeply He stirs our desires. We ache for Him, and this ache is no more than the whispered response to His desire for us. God, hidden but present in His power and glory, has chosen to abide in these mysterious regions of our being -- drawing, moving, captivating in ways that we cannot understand.  
If we are attentive, a Christmas Tree can open the heart to this mystery. Just as this tree fills a room, when He chose to be born of the womb of Mary, the Word made  flesh became the center of our history, in the apex of each one's life. Its star reminds us that wisdom from on High has chosen to make our hearts His home. The lights of the tree remind us that He is no more afraid of our darkness than he was of the manger in which He first took rest. The decorations remind us of that unfathomably beauty: the Word of the Father and son of Mary joining together the mysteries of God and man.
As Christmas draws near, His first cries are ready to echo within us even should they go unrecognized. Angels are ready to sing from heaven even if no one below will hear their voices. The poorest shepherds are ready to adore even if no one of high station will share their joy. We, for our part, have nothing to fear. He never loses His hope in us, and is ever ready to allow our prayers to bind Him like swaddling clothes.